updated 24 Dec 2010, 03:02
user id password
Thu, Dec 23, 2010
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
India’s abandoned wives rue broken promises of expat grooms

A VELVET-BOUND album of wedding photographs and two unused train tickets for her honeymoon are the only remnants of Amanjyot Kaur's marriage.

One week after the grand wedding ceremony in a small village in the Indian state of Punjab, Kaur's husband, who lives in Montreal, Canada, returned home, promising to send his new wife documents she needed for a visa.

But the papers never arrived and when Kaur finally managed to get in touch with her husband he refused to recognise her.

"I wrote 120 letters, made nearly 500 phone calls to reach him in Canada but nothing moved him," said 22-year-old Kaur, who has suffered chronic depression since her wedding two years ago.

"I hate myself for loving an insensitive man. He cheated me, and my family," she said, gesturing to her father who had to sell four acres of farmland to meet the lavish wedding expenses.

Kaur is just one of thousands of brides abandoned in India by expatriate Indians who return to the country for arranged marriages and then flee taking the dowry money with them.

According to the Lok Bhalai party, a small political organisation in Punjab, over 22,000 abandoned brides have registered criminal cases against their NRI (Non-Resident Indian) grooms. The party's founder, B Ramoowalia, calculated that in the last 10 years he has helped 1,200 deserted brides trace their husbands. "Marriage is the easiest way to make money for these men. They plan their exit from the country as soon as they get the dowry," he said.

In India, paying and accepting a dowry has been illegal since 1961, but the centuries-old tradition of the bride's parents presenting gifts of cash, clothes and jewellery to the groom's family remains strong across society.

Kaur declines to reveal how much dowry her husband collected, but the figure is often thousands of dollars.

The Indian wedding season is in full swing, with young Indian men who live in Canada, Britain and other Western countries travelling to their ancestral villages to find a bride as their parents insist on traditional daughters-in-law.

Young girls are often desperate to emigrate to escape mundane village life and aspire to settle overseas but many unions last just days.

Dubbed as "holiday brides", the women are unable to marry again, feel guilty for being a burden on their parents, and often hold onto the distant hope that their husbands will change their minds and rescue them.

"But this never happens. The grooms never come back to the village, fearing that they would be arrested or beaten up by the villagers," said Radha Navin, a bride abandoned by an English-Indian man in 2004.

"Go to any village in Punjab and you will find at least one 'holiday bride' living with her parents or forced to depend on relatives for financial handouts," she said. "The government needs to recognise this massive social problem." Navin tells how, just days after her wedding, her husband said he had a European girlfriend and that he would only help with her visa if Navin agreed to live with the "other woman" in the same house in Southall in London.

"I refused his offer and filed a police complaint but he managed to escape by bribing some of the police officers," she said. Other stories recount how the groom leaves India and then demands more and more cash from the bride's family, saying that unless the money is paid he will never collect her.

A 2007 report by the Punjab University stated that about 25,000 abandoned women in Punjab alone faced an uphill battle against a legal system which provides little hope of justice.

It suggested the Indian government should stamp the marital status of NRIs in their passports and bring in new laws to protect vulnerable women. But Navin said there was a reluctance for politicians in Punjab to tackle the issue as many of the expatriate grooms involved come from families who provide parties with donations.

"Why would a political party want to upset their donors. For some NRIs marriages are not made in heaven but on the basis of money," she said.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.